A step towards smartwatches supporting chronic disease prevention in healthcare

Smartwatch healthcare

University of Queensland researchers have developed a roadmap for the potential integration of smartwatches into Australian healthcare – but concede there are still several challenges to overcome.

According to Dr Graeme Mattison, from UQ’s Faculty of Medicine, using smartwatches for a comprehensive analysis of a patient’s health could enable personalised care for people diagnosed with chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes and arthritis.

“One in three Australians own a smartwatch and they have become a popular accessory to monitor health and wellbeing,” Dr Mattison explained.

“However, there are five challenges preventing the health sector from using smartwatches in clinical decision-making, including data accuracy and interoperability.”

The roadmap, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, focuses on three themes to address the challenges – building digital health prevention foundations, transforming preventive care using data and analytics, and harnessing learning systems to enable precise disease prevention.

Smartwatches can track health metrics such as step count, heart rate, sleep quality and blood oxygen levels, yet, their data has varying degrees of accuracy.

“It is possible that consumers will seek medical advice if their smartwatch suggests a health concern, however the distinction between medical-grade and recreational-grade data can be hazy,” Dr Mattison admitted.

“The data can confuse consumers and their healthcare providers, leading to potential overdiagnosis and heightened patient anxiety.”

For smartwatches to play a greater role in clinical decision-making, Dr Mattison said regulations would be required regarding how the devices display digital health information. Similarly, health professionals will need formal training to quickly interpret vast amounts of smartwatch data.

“The algorithms used to interpret health measurements are currently controlled and owned by individual smartwatch manufacturers, which impacts the capacity for other parties to decipher the information.

Dr Mattison said the roadmap was a guide, stressing that smartwatches are far from being integrated, with further questions existing around data ownership, storage, and accessibility yet to be explored.

“We need a concerted effort to undertake disease prevention, as our treatment efforts are failing,” the study states.

“Smartwatches could facilitate this approach, alongside other mobile health care technologies (such as smoking cessation apps and behaviour change technique apps for obesity), as a user-friendly, data-rich and non-invasive intervention that may lower chronic disease morbidity.

“Clinical regulation of software designed for medical use is the first step. As healthcare professionals, we can further our understanding of smartwatch use in chronic disease through further research using real world data – with the ultimate goal of improving autonomy and health outcomes for consumers.”

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